When the Premier League announced that they were going to restart the season, many were happy merely at the return of football. As Newcastle fans, the prospect of football brings a sense of anxiety along with it. The question as to which Newcastle will turn up, will it be a return to some of the poor football we’ve already seen this season, and which Newcastle will turn up?
Well two games in against high flying Sheffield United, and relegation doomed Aston Villa, and it isn’t looking that bad, with a lot more positives than negatives to take away from the games as we look to the FA Cup 1/4 final tie with Manchester City on Sunday.
Vs Sheff UTD (21/06/2020) 3-0
The first game back looked a hard start as it were. Sheffield United have surprised many this season as the push for a European place for next season. Already having played one game in the restart, there was a chance that Chris Wilder’s team could look fitter than the Newcastle side.
In fact the opposite was true! After the first 10 minutes, Steve Bruce’s side came into the game, and controlled it pretty much until the final whistle. The players looked a half a yard quicker than their counterparts, with plenty of attacking options with the new formation of 4-2-3-1.
The first big chance fell to Joelinton, a striker lacking confidence, bust rushed through on a through ball from Miguel Almiron, only to scuff his shot at the last minute, in what seemed like a return to form, or lack off, for the young Brazilian.
The second half it would be all Newcastle. This was helped by the sending off, off John Egan on the 50 minute mark, following a second booking for pulling Joelinton’s shirt as he burst through. The flood gates opened, as 5 minutes later, Matt Ritchie would cross the ball across the Sheffield box, for the defender to swipe at air, and it to fall towards the French talisman that is Allan Saint-Maximin, with a first time shot going past keeper Dean Henderson on 55 minutes.
Provider would turn scorer when a mere 14 minutes later Matt Ritchie would fire a shot from outside the box past a helpless Henderson. The game was wrapped up on 78 minutes when Almiron squared the ball across to Joelinton to score his first league goal since August.
It was a fantastic performance by United, who would ease any chance of getting dragged into a relegation fight. Performances from Saint-Maximin, Hayden, Fernandez and Ritchie were standouts. However there was a much improved Joelinton, Manquillo continued his good form! It almost seemed like the team hadn’t been away, while Sheffield United just didn’t look up to speed on the day.
VS Aston Villa (24/6/2020) 1-1
Steve Bruce would stick with the same starting 11 for the return of one of his former clubs, for our second league game in 4 days, and it showed. It took a while for Newcastle to get into the game, with Villa doing a lot of the early running, but nothing that really challenged Dubravka.
The first real chance for the Toon fell to Joelinton, with a step over to make some space, and a hit with his left (learning from his mistake on Sunday) only for Tyron Mings to block and send it out for a corner.
The team looked laboured, and couldn’t really make an impact in the game, with Villa pushing for points to secure Premier League survival. However a couple of substitutions would change the game for a short while. Geordie striker and Geoff from Byker Grove lookalike Andy Carroll would replace Joelinton in the second half, would link up with Dwight Gayle (who came on for Ritchie), to give the former Crystal Palace striker his first goal of the season on 68 minutes.
Villa would keep pushing, with Newcastle unable to finish the midlands side off, and would get a reward on 83 minutes as Ahmed Elmohamady would head in a Jack Grealish corner. The goal was a tad fortunate for Villa, with Shelvey seemingly getting in Dubravka’s way for the goal, to give away a soft goal, something that would disappoint manager Steve Bruce.
To come out of the first two games of Project Restart unbeaten, and with 4 points is probably a better result than many of us were expecting. A mixture of performances but plenty of positives from both games.
The biggest positive for me is Joelinton. It looks like a completely different player. He looks stronger, faster, and seems to be more willing to getting into the box. He is for my mind also showing that he is listening to his coaches, and the difference in chances in the two games showed. His first chance against Sheffield United was poor, seemed to kick the ground more, and seemed almost clumsy as he tried to move onto his right. The chance against Villa he made his own space and put his laces through it, if not for a brilliant block by Mings.
The standout performance from both games has to go to Saint-Maximin! The lad is a different class. He just makes it look too easy as he leaves defender after defender behind him. The lad puts in a shift, its not just his attacking prowess that gets the headlines, it his tracking back. For me, he looks more comfortable on the right, and partnering up with Manquillo than he does on the left with Rose.
A special mention for Isaac Hayden as well. In my opinion Man of the Match on Sunday. He was everywhere, controlled the midfield, and didn’t seem to put a foot wrong. Didn’t have quite as good a game against Villa, but apart from ASM not many did.
I do believe this is the quietist 180 minutes that Dubravka has ever had in a Newcastle shirt. Apart from the Villa goal, I can’t remember him having to make a save, and the goal there could be an argument Shelvey was at fault, either should have put his foot through it, or left it to Dubravka.
All in all, not a bad restart, and sets us up well for the cup tie against Manchester City on Sunday. Whether Bruce sticks with the same team, or mixes it up bit it remains to be seen, but there are decent options on the bench. Should be a decent game of football, ad hopefully will put Newcastle firmly in the draw for the semi-finals, and a trip to Wembley.